Friday, February 25, 2011

So many questions!

Been making my way through Zizek's first book. The plan is to post thoughts that come out of my reading.

One way to really see how ideology works is not so much in the answers someone gives but in the person's questions. For example, the type of questions floating around at this time are like: "Yes, but why did the Egyptians really revolt against Mubarak?" or "What do the unions really have in store for Wisconsin?" Instead of paying attention to the actual appearances and statements from the actors of these events, one attempts to look behind the curtain to find some other, nefarious motive.

One of the problems is that instead of dealing with the hard, everyday battle of the social-political framework, one simply dismisses it because of the silent, puppet-master pulling all the strings makes it impossible to change anything. The reality of this is that things never run so smoothly. To posit the entity pulling all the strings is to betray how disjointed the world really is. In essence, ideology plays upon the idea that reality has any type of completeness or finality.

This kind of fake wholeness of community is best seen in Antisemitism in Nazi Germany. The idea here is the Nazi's pursued the thought that Germany could be a peaceful, whole community but the foreigner (the Jews) were the element in society preventing this idea of a complete society. This ideal community then served as the context for the Nazi's to remove the foreign element from society. Again, one of the principle propaganda methods used was these type of questions: "Yes, but why do you think the Jews control the banks?" and "Why do you think your Jewish neighbor seems so normal?" So for a German steeped in ideology, there is always some secret motive in the other; of course the Jewish banker can't just be a banker because that is the job he has from the historical/social/ contextual reality that he was given or the neighbor just can't be a nice, regular guy. They are all part of a secret plot to interrupt the German way of life!

Seen from the viewpoint of ideology, the Jewish Germans had no shot for survival and neither does any other group that does not resist the type of questions that ideologists attempt to pose. Again, the national way of life as a completed and natural state of things is a fake. It is used as a way to attack any type of otherness or mood of discontent coming from those on the outside of the ideology. Perhaps philosophy's best contribution is to re-frame the questions posed by ideology.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Identities versus Singularities!

As early as St. Paul, the battle between identities or singularities has been waged. Paul was one of the first to articulate the wiping away of identities (no male/female, slave/free, and Gentile/Jew) for a new community. Early Christian thought always had a communal outlook and basis. Unfortunately, history shows those Christian strands of communities that remained faithful to Paul's ideas to have either been so minor a population as to be ignored or to be totally persecuted. For example, a lot that we know about the 15th century peaceful Anabaptists is written by those that mercilessly persecuted them.

One of the problems brought by the rise of the nation-state and modernity, was of the totality of the so-called organic community. This organic community does away with the real differences that make up the nation but also each person. Translation: These people are the real German "essence" and those are not.

From reading both Negri and Deleuze, one can see how a human person is a singularity in that he/she is made up of a lot more things than simple autonomous, rational thinking subjects. We are interconnected with other singularities. For Negri, this plays out in the way we deal with what he calls the common. Great quote by Negri: "Common is that which enriches the productivity of singularities! Common is the fact that a lot of ideas come to me when you and I talk about something! Common is the fact that if I love you, we invent things together!"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

More Than Meets the Eye: Transformers and Orientalism

The recent events in Egypt have given me a lot to think about the way we portray the Middle East in our popular culture. Thus, I started thinking about current films in particular Michael Bay's Transformers. I remember watching the opening of the film in a class about Theology and Culture. What I found remarkable is that the villains of the story emerge from the sands of the Middle East. Of course, what are the Decepticons? They are US military weapons (tanks, helicopters, jets, etc.). Then with the “All Sparks Cube” they are able to turn all US ingenuity against the US. Therefore, the Decepticons represent in many ways U.S. technology being turned against them. Furthermore, their origin in the Middle East speaks to the fear that those in that region will be able to acquire our technology and use it against us and our allies. This goes with the idea that those in that region are a barbaric people that need to be controlled. Thus any attempt to bring technological advances to their nation is met with friction from the West. Funny enough, this recent uprising in Egypt was partly due to Internet communication. Oddly enough the sequel places the robots in Egypt. Interesting indeed.

Matthew Jimenez is currently studying Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on Technology

I was having a conversation with my dad the other day, and we were talking about the growing dependence on technology. Of course, both of us were certainly aware that this has been going on for some time; however, the interesting thing was how my father felt somewhat obsolete (or a growing concern for people of his age) in this new age of technology. It is very true that things have changed. My brother and I grew up in the age of Atari and Nintendo. Video Games have come a long way since then and now with the internet players can play online from all over the world. Thus, while one group of people feels out of place, the other group is making the most of the developing technology. Nevertheless, is this all good?

It is certainly true that technological advances have made life more convenient for most living today. Nevertheless, has humanity become too reliant on technology for its own good? Like the Johnny Cash song “John Henry” is it a futile effort to confront technology (he dies despite the fact that he defeated the track-laying machine)? Can we even imagine a world without the modern conveniences like lap tops and computers? I am intrigued by the growing use of technology. Certainly, more time is spent online than in years past. Stores are going bankrupt with the development of online shopping and Kindle (I still prefer books). I suppose that this is the normal course of things. Change is scary for some. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this develops.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Parte 3: Challenging the Measure of Guilt in Job and Negri

The book of Job is essentially a challenge to unhealthy guilt in that Job withstands the judgments of his so-called theologian friends. For theorist Antonio Negri, the book of Job raises some fundamental philosophical questions. Negri's main goal is to challenge retributive judgment that is based on measure.

Job withstands at least three big ideas: 1) the logic of retribution (best seen in Eliphaz), 2) mystical over-determination and 3) transcendent providence or moralism. In all three methods, Job's friends try to answer back to Job's complaints. They claim that the reason that Job suffers has to do with some meaning: it is either retribution for something Job committed (reward/punishment), a mystery that Job must passively accept, or it is just part of some kind of master plan. In short, there is some underlying meaning, and Job must silently, passively accept that.

However, the surprise of the book is that God does come down for Job to see! Negri makes a great point to say that not even Moses could see God face to face, but here is God before Job the complainer! And as God appears, God basically takes Job's side! I love this fact because it shows that God creates a space for humans to actually complain about the meaninglessness of their suffering.

One of the best parts of the book is where Negri contrasts pain with fear. In one sense, pain brings us into community, it evokes our sympathies and passions and will perhaps produce a free, creative act. On the other hand, fear is dictatorial when it is made a realist foundation that silences humans for the sake of security. Negri is right on in that it is the best part of the human being to feel empathy and become angry when we see pain; it arouses our conscience to finally act and regard someone as a fellow human brother/sister.

Negri's final point from Job is to say that the Church has often taken the position of one of Job's interlocutors than standing with those that suffer (unlike Christ, right?). One of the lessons to learn is to look to act when we experience pain with another than to look for some kind of retributive key behind someone's pain. Again, I always reread the book of Job by saying what if Job's friends go to visit him, cry with him and then the book ends.

Ramadan and Zizek on Egypt

A short discussion about the current revolution in Egypt with Tariq Ramadan and Slavoj Zizek.